Europe by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

Europe by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

Train travel is one of the best ways to see Europe – the continent’s fairly compact so it’s easy to get around, and you can sit back and soak up the stunning views with a picnic. But if you’re planning a rail trip, most of the suggested itineraries seem to be geared up for Interailers on month-long trips. It doesn’t have to be this way though – you can have a mini European rail adventure too. Pick a region and a few destinations and get planning (the Seat 61 and Deutsche Bahn websites are great for routes and timetables). Or if that sounds too much work, here are five of Europe’s best one-week rail trip ideas to get you started. All of the routes are possible in a week, but if you’ve got more time then you can take things slower and spend more time in each place. The idea isn’t to wear yourself out trying to see everything in every destination, but to take in some of the highlights and get a taste for each place (and if you love it you can always come back!).

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

The Flåmsbana scenic train in Norway

Northern Europe – Canals and chocolate

Start off in Amsterdam and spend a couple of days checking out the city’s canals, cafés and museums. Then take an early train on to the pretty Belgian city of Bruges (3 hours away). Spend the afternoon feasting on local chocolate and beer then next morning climb to the top of the Belfort tower or take a boat trip before catching an afternoon train to Paris (3 hours). You’re totally spoilt for things to do in Paris, so choose a few favourites to do over the next couple of days. Then take the train on to Switzerland’s oldest city, Chur, on the banks of the Rhine (5 hours). Spend the night in Chur then next morning catch the Bernina Express, one of Europe’s most scenic train journeys through spectacular Alpine scenery to Ticino in Italy, where you change to a local train to connect to Milan (total 7 hours). Then spend your last morning shopping and sightseeing in the Italian fashion capital before heading home.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Northen Europe

Though Northern Europe from Amsterdam to Milan

Italy – Palaces and pizza

Begin your trip with a couple of days in Venice – cruise the Grand Canal, get lost in the backstreets and brave the crowds at St Mark’s Square and the Doges Palace. Then take an early train to Florence (2 hours) and spend the afternoon gallery-hopping. Finish getting your fill of Renaissance art the next morning then take the short journey on to Rome (1.5 hours) for the afternoon. Spend the next day seeing the historical sights of Rome before travelling on to the gritty coastal city of Naples (1 hour 10 mins). Stuff yourself in the home of pizza and if you have time to spare you can catch the Circumvesuviana railway to visit nearby Sorrento, Herculaneum or Pompeii. Finish off with a couple of days on the island of Sicily – you can take the train all the way as it travels right on to the ferry for the 30-minute boat trip across the Messina Straits (takes 6 hours 45 mins to Taormina, 7.5 hours to Catania or 9 hours to Palermo).

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Italy

Through Italy from Venice to Sicily

Eastern Europe – Concerts and cake

Arrive into the Hungarian capital Budapest for a couple of days soaking up the culture, steaming in the thermal baths and partying in ruin pubs. Then catch a train on to Bratislava in Slovakia (2.5 hours), a compact city on the banks of the Danube. Spend the afternoon and next morning checking the city’s mix of 18th-century and Socialist-era architecture. Then travel on to Vienna in Austria (1 hour by train – or if you fancy a change from rail travel then the two cities are also connected by a boat along the Danube). Visit an ornate palace, catch a Mozart concert at the opera house and fill up on delicious sachertorte at a coffee house. Next travel on to Ljubljana in Slovenia (6 hours) for a couple of days exploring the charming old town, or you’re also only an hour by train from beautiful Lake Bled. Then end your trip in Zagreb, across the border in Croatia (2.5 hours), with a day visiting its museums, galleries and churches.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Eastern Europe

Through Eastern Europe from Budapest to Zagreb

Spain & Portugal – Paella and port

Start off in the Spanish coastal city of Barcelona and spend a couple of days checking out Gaudi’s handiwork and catching some rays on the beach. Then take an early train down the coast to Valencia (3 hours) where you have the afternoon and next morning to explore the city’s mix of ancient and modern architecture and try a paella where it was first created. Take a short train ride inland to the Spanish capital Madrid in the afternoon (1.5 hours) and spend the next day visiting its parks and galleries. Then catch the Lusitania overnight train that evening, leaving Madrid just before 10pm and arriving into Lisbon at 7.30am the next morning. Spend a couple of days in Portugal’s capital spotting street art and feasting on seafood – or you can take a short day trip to the palace at Sintra (30 mins each way). Then finally travel north to Porto (3 hours) to end with a day of port-tasting on the banks of the Duoro.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Spain and Portugal

Through Spain and Portugal from Barcelona to Porto

Scandinavia – Fjords and funiculars

Begin your route with a couple of day in the Danish capital Copenhagen – cycle around the cobbled streets and check out the design shops and Michelin-starred restaurants in Nyhavn. Then take the train over the Öresund Link bridge and tunnel into Sweden and on to Stockholm (5 hours). Spend a day exploring the city, from medieval Gamla Stan to the hundreds of islands in the archipelago. Then travel across the border to Norway and Oslo (6.5 hours) where you can get a dose of Scandinavian culture at the city’s museums and art galleries. Take the scenic rail route towards the coast next – first the mainline train to Myrdal (4.5 hours) and then the Flåmsbana mountain railway to Flåm (50 minutes). Spend the night on the edge of the fjords and take a cruise out into the Sognefjord before travelling on to Bergen the next day (2 hours). Finish off with a trip to the fish market and great views from the funicular to Mount Fløyen.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Scandinavia

Through Scandinavia from Copenhagen to Bergen

So which would be your favourite route? Get lots more inspiration for travel by train in Europe in the On the Luce ‘Rail Travel Ideas Book’, launching late 2016.

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You don't need months to spare to see Europe by train – five of the best mini European rail adventures, with routes in Italy, Scandinavia and more –

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  1. says

    They all sound so good! I keep meaning to do a rail trip one of these days, you got me to seriously think about the first two, haha. 😀

    • says

      Glad to hear I’m converting you to the joys of rail travel! The Swiss trains on the first route were fantastic, but I’d really love to do the whole train on the ferry trip over to Sicily, definitely a unique experience.

    • says

      There’s so much to see in Italy it’s hard to narrow it down! I loved the area around Naples and Sorrento (also very easy to get around on the trains) but think Sicily will be my next Italian rail trip.

    • says

      That was one of my favourite trips last year! It’s actually pretty easy to do as a long weekend trip from Northern Europe and flights were pretty reasonable too.

  2. says

    Great itineraries, Lucy. They all sound fantastic, but I am partial to the Scanadanvian trip. I have never been to any of those cities and feel like there is so much to explore!

    • says

      I would love to see more of Scandinavia too – Norway was amazing last year so I’ve got the taste for it now! I’m possibly doing a cruise around that area this year but if not I’ll be planning a train trip soon.

    • says

      Thank you! Yes Italy is a great choice, so much to see in just one country, love the mix of beaches, history ad culture (not to mention the food).

  3. says

    Looks great – had in mind a version of the Spain and Portugal trip next year but maybe extending it by starting in Paris and then taking the high-speed train down to Barcelona. Scandinavia is very tempting as well. Really enjoy posts like these!

    • says

      Sounds like a great trip planned – I haven’t been back to Spain for years so am well overdue another visit. Love the planning too, it was hard to narrow it down to just five routes (there might be a part 2 sometime!).

  4. says

    These are great Lucy! I did a train trip from Hamburg, Germany > Copenhagen, Denmark > Stockholm, Sweden >ferry> Turku, Finland > Tampere, Finland > Helsinki, Finland >ferry> Germany!
    It was amazing, the trains are so great and cosy in the winter! I didn’t have time to get to Norway but will be road tripping it this summer!

    • says

      Thanks Rachel. Thanks sounds like an epic Scandinavia trip! I have definitely got to get back out there and see more of the region. You will love Norway too I’m sure (might have to leave the camper for the day and do the Flamsbana though!).

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing this. the Italy route is especially interesting to me. We’ve been to Lake Garda and Tirano but have never seen the famous cities 🙂

    • says

      Thanks Suze, hope it comes in useful. There’s so much to see in Italy, I have been a few times but still have a lot of places to visit (Lake Garda is one).

    • says

      Thanks so much, I do love a good map (its my geography student background!). I created them using Illustrator – I have a map of the world where each country is a separate shape, then highlight the ones I want and draw on the route and labels (I like Illustrator as it’s vector based so you can zoom right into one country without it going blurry).

    • says

      Thanks, I drew the maps using Adobe Illustrator (part of my day job is in graphic design so it comes in useful for the blog sometimes too!).

  6. says

    I really can’t decide which of these I’d like to do most! I love travelling by train – it’s just a shame that it’s such a luxury here in Germany, but the prices are just so high.

    • says

      It’s definitely the most civilised way to travel! You do need to be pretty organised though and book about three months in advance to get the cheap fares though.

  7. Mark Gillespie says

    Very nice article Lucy. I would go on a Germany/Austria itinerary myself.
    Wurzburg – Munich – Salzburg – Innsbruck – Krimml waterfall. Add on Feldkirch or Bregenz on Lake Constance if time allows. The Alpine scenery is stunning.
    Belgium and the Netherlands are small enough to use one City as a base and explore from there. The intercity trains are usually at the same time every hour, very reliable too.

    • says

      Thanks Mark, yes I think I will have to do a follow up with some more itineraries as there are so many possibilities! Germany and Austria would be great, I’ve not been to Germany for years so am overdue a bit more exploration.

  8. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) says

    Such lovely itinerary ideas you’ve suggested Lucy! Can’t even decide which I like most! I’m going to Florence and Venice soon so that appeals obviously but I’d also love to visit the Fjords one day or do the Spain/Portugal trip – I hear Porto is stunning ☺

    • says

      Porto was great – I spent a really sunny February weekend there a couple of years ago and loved it, so Lisbon is high on the list now. Though having said after the fjords I would love to see more of Scandinavia too – decisions, decisions!

  9. says

    Wow Lucy, what a great post, especially with the cute maps! I’ve bookmarked this under ‘travel ideas’ and hopefully I’ll get to hop on one of these trains soon. I’m especially intrigued by Italy and Spain/Portugal. I remember taking the train from Bologna to Florence and how pleasantly surprised I was with the Italian trains. They are so comfortable, especially in Business Class. Our seats reclined and we got a free glass of prosecco, too! Such good value for money especially if you book in advance, so an Italian train adventure is definitely high up on my travel to do list 🙂 btw, any ideas for train journeys just within France? Or would you need a car there?

    • says

      Thanks so much, hope it comes in useful. The business class seats with prosecco definitely sound like the way to travel! France would be easy by train too. Paris to Reims (for Champagne tasting), then Strasbourg and through the Swiss Alps to the South of France and along the coast would be a good route.

      • says

        Great itinerary – I love champagne (who doesn’t?), been to Strasbourg once as a kid and would love to visit again and I guess you can’t go wrong with the Côte d’Azur 🙂 thanks!

  10. says

    Woooonderful. You’ve done a fantastic job of breaking the journeys down Lucy especially as professional people sadly, really can’t spend a month travelling all over Europe by train! I can’t decide which ones are better so I’ll choose all of them LOL! I went skiing to the Czech Republic by train this winter and in the summer, we’ll be going to Hungary, the Czech Republic & Slovakia as I quite fancy showing my son where his mummy used to live in Prague so many years ago…!
    ‘Love it. 🙂

    • says

      Yes I wish I had a spare month or two to do an epic train trip! Your Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia route sounds like a good one – since I wrote this I’ve come up with at least another five more ideas so I think there might have to be a part two at some point!

  11. Debbie says

    Wow! This is very informative 🙂 Would like to ask for your help though if that’s fine with you. Im travelling to the Scandinivia this June. Here’s some of the countries im interested: Denmark, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Strasbourg, Switzerland, Milan, Venice, Florence, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich. Which country/s do you think should I eliminate from my list? Hahahah I know its a lot to handle. I just need someone to tell me which of these should I eliminate hahaha cause I cant figure it out myself. Start and end point will be Denmark.

    Thanks in advance!

    • says

      Sure, happy to help. I would advise cutting out Italy on this trip as although it’s a fantastic country you’d be covering a lot of ground to get there from Denmark and don’t want to spend your entire trip on the move. In terms of route if you look at it as a circle without too many long journeys, then maybe this would work:

      Copenhagen > Hamburg (4 hours 30) > Amsterdam (5:15) > Paris (3:20) > Strasbourg (2:20) > Zurich (2:25) > Salzburg (5:25) > Vienna (2:30) > Prague (4:10) > Berlin (4:45) > Copenhagen (7:00).

      You can also add in a day trip from Vienna to Bratislava by boat. Anyway hope that helps!

  12. says

    Some very interesting tours. I’ve visited Stockholm and Copenhagen and took the bus to go to Sweden from Denmark. I’ve never considered the train so far but might do after reading this 🙂

    • says

      Thanks, the train routes in Scandinavia are well worth a try – very quick and efficient and some stunning scenery along the way!

  13. Steve says

    Wonderful post, love travelling around europe by train, the people watching and adventure is superb, and wondering to the bar whilst en route, mustn’t forget that! I did a circle from London>Paris>Avignon>Nice>Monaco>Cinque Terre>Florence>Bern>Brussels and back to London with a few stop offs in between. An unforgettable journey filled with booze, scenery and laughter! Next stop Oslo after reading this!

    • says

      Love the sound of your route, the South of France has some amazing train journeys along the coast. It’s definitely my favourite way to travel (and like you say mustn’t forget the bar!).

    • says

      That’s great! I am going to have to try and get back to that part of the world soon too, I’ve got so much still to see in Spain especially.

    • says

      There’s always next time! Hope you enjoy Italy, it’s one of those places I can’t seem to stop getting drawn back to again and again.

    • says

      Thanks, yes there are a lot of great options in Italy, you could easily spend a month travelling by train and not leave the country!

  14. says

    Lucy, we’re heading back to Europe this summer, so your round-up of rail routes comes at a perfect time. (I must confess that I greatly miss train travel options here in the United States.)

    Also, your graphics are lovely and sophisticated. What program did you use to craft them?

    • says

      Thanks Tricia, yes it’s such a shame that there are not more rail routes in the US, it’s crying out for some scenic train journeys.

      The maps I created in Adobe Illustrator – I have a base map of the world and then highlight the countries and draw on the route and labels (part of my work is in graphic design so it comes in useful having all the software available!).

    • says

      I loved Norway last year and it’s made me want to see more of the region for sure – hopefully Sweden will be next!

  15. says

    This is amazing Lucy. I loved all the routes and the way you presented them. I would love to do the first one… it is probably a good idea to do it with my mom and she comes to visit me again. <3

  16. Laurie says

    Sounds wonderful. Do you see many people traveling by themselves? I am recently widowed and feel I want to do all these trips alone.

    • says

      I’ve seen quite a few solo travellers on my European train trips, the carriages tend to be quite sociable and we’ve ended up chatting to people, especially on the longer journeys. I wouldn’t have any concerns about safety etc doing train travel alone myself.

  17. Melody Pittman says

    I’ve been eyeing rail trips for a bit now and this is a perfect list! Thanks for sharing, great ideas here.

    • says

      Thanks – there is definitely something a bit old fashioned about train travel but I think that’s part of the charm to sit back and soak up the scenery in comfort!

  18. Kalli says

    Hello! This was really informative and helpful! I love the maps. Can you give any approximate pricing for the tickets, or perhaps a website where I could look up the prices? Thank you!

    • says

      Hi, I would check out the website for some idea of prices (I’m currently working on an ebook with prices for these are more routes but it’ll be a few months yet!).

  19. says

    This post was so helpful for me! I am currently trying to plan a week/week and a half train travel trip in Europe and I think I might use your Eastern Europe trip route as a potential starter idea!

    • says

      So glad to came in useful – I really want to get back to that part of the world and see more of Slovenia and Northern Croatia, think a new rail route may be in order!

  20. Christina says

    Hi there! I’m creating a scrapbook for a euro trip I took this past summer. I love the design & look/feel of your blog. I was wondering how you create the graphic map images you use to route the trips. Do you use a website generator? Please let me know, as I’d love to include one of my trip in my scrapbook! 🙂

    • says

      Hi Christina, thanks so much, glad you like the blog and the maps! Afraid they were all custom drawn using Abode Illustrator (my day job is in publishing/design) – I don’t know if you’ve heard of the website Canva though as you can do lots of designs there, and could import a map and add your own captions and routes there.

  21. Stephanie says

    So I still haven’t figure out where I’m flying into, I think my best option will be to fly from one city and do the trains. A friend recommended to fly to Spain and take the train to Paris (which is the main event since it’s the city my sister wants to spend the most time in) I’m thinking of doing the Spain hiting Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, and doing the Paris, Amsterdam one, and somewhere in between doing London because that’s where I want to go

  22. says

    We are just back from an Interrail through Scandinavia and we suggest you not to stop in Oslo but go up to the north visiting Roros, Trondheim and then Bodo. Then one day break on a road trip to Narvik with stunning views between the fjords and again on the train to the swedish lapland… just magic!

  23. Dini says

    Hi Lucy.. very interesting information you have here. I am interested about Northern Europe – Canal and chocolate.. chocolate is my “thing”.. just wonder, can i do it backwards, from milan, chur, paris, bruges then last in amstedam?

    • says

      Hi Dini, yes that should work just as well – the only bit which is a at all fiddly is the connection between Milan and the scenic train to Switzerland but the Seat61 website has a good description of times and how to book (

  24. Jeannie says

    Hi Lucy. I’ve travelled by train and car in Europe. I agree that train travel is much more relaxing for the driver but sometimes the scenery is much better on the roads. How’s the scenery on your itineraries?

    • says

      Hi Jeannie, there are some amazingly scenic stretches of train route in Europe – some like the Flam Railway in Norway and the Glacier Express in Switzerland are renowned around the world, but I like the lesser-known stretches too, especially through the mountains and along the coast. The bonus is that everyone gets to enjoy them too if no one has to drive!

  25. Patty says

    You just convinced me that Europe is the place to go – me and my boyfriend were discussing our annual trip and he mentioned Europe and I was worried about not being able to see enough in such a short amount of time. But your Spain and Italy itineraries have sold me! Now just to pick which one.

  26. says

    I love travelling by train! I went interrailing when I finished my A-levels and over two weeks travelled Paris-Rome-Venice-Vienna-Salzburg-Berlin. It was great, but may have to check out some of your one week routes!

  27. says

    Thanks Lucy. Very valuable info. How much can a trip like this cost ? Eg armstedam or Italy week trip? Also thinking if Starting in Austria / Slovakia . Are these weekly trips flexible or cast in stone? Can you choose how long to stay in a particular city?

    • says

      Hi, the trips are totally flexible so you can add in extra days wherever you like if you have time to spare. Cost wise there are Interail passes you can get or it is often just as cheap if not cheaper if you can book your train tickets in advance. I’m working on costings for the ebook version at the moment but am finding most can be done for under €200.

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